Peter Higgin (Enrichment Director), Punchdrunk
The Creativeworks Researcher-in-Residence scheme has been hugely beneficial for the team at Punchdrunk Enrichment. Punchdrunk is a site sympathetic theatre company and the Enrichment department take the company’s transformative ethos and practice into educational and community settings.
In the summer of 2015 our Researcher-in-Residence Emma Miles from Royal Holloway, University of London went into four schools in Newham, East London to examine the impact of our primary school project, The Lost Lending Library (LLL). The department has been delivering work in primary schools since 2009 and LLL since 2013.
The anecdotal feedback and demand from schools for the work means we understand the project has impact, as a small team we conduct thorough evaluations and attempt to demonstrate gains in attainment and engagement, impact on teacher practice and behavioural change in the home. Time, as ever, is limited so deeper objective analysis is beyond our everyday means. Working with Emma has allowed us to embed a researcher in a school setting, giving us the opportunity to watch the project unfold and capture impact in the moment.
The data and insight generated from Emma’s report is invaluable for the company. It is already helping to shape the project, our practice and our strategy and will be an invaluable asset for communicating the value of our work to a number of stakeholders.
Alongside this all, Emma has been a pleasure to work with and the research placement has been a great match, ideally suited to her interests and experience and the company’s needs.
Emma Miles (PhD candidate), Royal Holloway, University of London
My Researcher-in-Residence placement with Punchdrunk Enrichment took place in the summer term of 2015. Some preliminary research had already been done into the spectrum of Punchdrunk’s education and outreach work across schools, museums and sites of performance, so we decided that this was an opportunity to look in real depth at the impact of The Lost Lending Library (or LLL) on a school. The LLL visited four different schools in Newham in this term and I was able to observe it in three of these – two more briefly, in order to get a sense of the shape of the project and to develop points of comparison, with the third being my in-depth case study. I visited this third school before the library arrived, getting to know the children in the three classes across the key stages whose experience I would be following. I was with them on the day it arrived, shrouded in mystery as a bookshelf replaced what had been the door to someone’s office. I saw their initial entry into the library in small groups, encountering its beautiful scenography and the stories told by the librarian within, and I was able to observe and talk to pupils and teachers about their subsequent writing, as well as their additional visits to the space once the librarians had disappeared.
The LLL project’s principle curriculum-centred aim is to inspire writing, and I certainly found many children to be hugely enthused by this magical experience. The library’s empty shelf, and the librarians who so trusted that these children were the story writers who could fill it, were powerful motivators. But I also found that the library brought many other wonderful things to the school community: an encounter with beauty; a sense of camaraderie and mutual support as the children independently explored this new and sometimes frightening place; inspiration for teachers surrounding the use of imagined worlds, and an exemplary piece of performance and imaginative creation. The research highlighted the potential of such projects to cross institutional boundaries and notions of children’s ability, to bring pupils and teachers together, and to inspire teaching and learning.
For me, this has been a brilliant opportunity to see how the ideas of my own PhD research (which looks at the intersection between theatre experiences for young children, pedagogy and cultural learning) might find echoes in other applied theatre practice. It has refreshed my thinking and opened up new avenues for exploration. As a primary school teacher (formerly full time and now flexibly alongside my research), I also found the work highly inspirational for my own teaching practice. Working with Punchdrunk Enrichment through the Researcher-in-Residence scheme has been an invaluable opportunity to connect with current practice, apply the research skills I am developing in a new context, and to meet some wonderful new people (both real and imagined!).